Here, Surf and Turf Come to Play
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007
Wondering about Rehoboth Beach, Del.'s new Pig + Fish? Jump in; the dining's swine.
In fact, despite a few lapses, the restaurant is better than one might expect, considering its cheeky twist on the surf 'n' turf twain. Both the porcine entrees and the finny ones get due attention; the salads are plentiful and occasionally prodigious; and the side vegetables (market fresh baby carrots, haricots verts, etc.) have generally come up to the mark. The menu packs plenty of nominal heat -- descriptions abound in Tabasco, chipotles, andouille, wasabi -- but it's moderate in practice. The seafood comes by its salt naturally, and what is added is (naturally) sea salt; sauces are presented more as condiments than camouflage (in some cases, they're downright inconspicuous). And unless you hog the heartiest portions, dinner's surprisingly affordable.
Pig + Fish is the brainchild of four 30-something professionals linked by metier and marriage. Doug Frampton, most recently the manager at the Iron Hill brew pub in Wilmington, and his wife, Lisa, a waitress who had worked her way up to floor manager at Iron Hill, had been vacationing in Dewey Beach for years. Frampton's sister Denise, who was also in the restaurant management biz, worked with him at various restaurants including Iron Hill, where she met Michael Stiglitz, then the brew pub's sous chef (and now heading up the Pig + Fish kitchen).
The four had already been scouting the region for a place when the space between Rehoboth Avenue and Christian Street that was for years Sydney's New Orleans-style restaurant and blues club came on the market. It's now streamlined and reoriented, with the old bar at the Christian Street end now a dining room for larger groups, and the new bar and lounge, complete with muted flat-screens and a fireplace, facing Rehoboth Avenue. The restaurant is spare and pleasant, with lighthearted porkers and gillies in paint, metal and ceramics all around the walls. It serves lunch until 4, when it shifts menus, but there are sandwiches, light fare and kid portions ("mini-me sliders") on both.
Although the name reportedly refers to traditional symbolism -- the pig representing good fortune and nourishment, the fish happiness and plenty -- it also lends itself handily to the restaurant's slogan ("Eat like a, drink like a"). It's already developed a following, especially at the bar, although nobody seems to be taking the saying to extremes. It has a "VIP-n-F" card that works like a bonus club: You sign up for $10, which gets you a Pig + Fish logo pint glass, and after that you accumulate one point per dollar spent; after 100 points you get a $10 credit and your checks are discounted 10 percent.
The menu does have a notable amount of the eponymous ingredients, especially if you count bacon crumbles and so on. Much of it is beer friendly, and there's a good list. But the martinis are a big draw, and the wine list is broad enough for trawling.
Appetizers include imperial-pint-friendly fare such as crab-cheese fondue, chowder and wine-steamed mussels (and an Asian version steamed with ginger, soy and green chilies, both among happy-hour specials); entrees veer from home-style meatloaf to upscale versions of fish 'n' chips (red-ale-battered cod) and barbecue (pulled pork on ciabatta). And for those still inclined to the original white meat, or to red, there are chicken sandwiches, turkey burgers and a strip steak plus some indulgent steak sliders with blue cheese and bacon.
Among the best dishes is Tabasco-smoked pork tenderloin, which came out prettily pink in the center and sided by warm potato salad flavored with but not saddled by bacon and scallion bits. Salmon wrapped in bacon and drizzled with a maple pecan glaze was similarly blushing inside but only just evaded over-saucing; the maple seemed less the off-note than the bitter pecans.
The bruschetta appetizer is probably not what most diners are expecting -- the oiled and toasted bread is rayed out around a large bowl of baby mozzarella balls and diced tomato in a pesto vinaigrette -- but it's ingratiating and cool. Salads can be overwhelming as starters, but the kitchen has recently begun offering smaller versions as well as the large ones (the staff forgot to mention that).
One night's fish special was four large sweet scallops, described as black-pepper-crusted, which sounded a bit brutal, but in fact seasoned only to the point at which the bite of the pepper set off the sweetness of the shellfish, and smartly sided by baby greens whose vinaigrette helped balance the dish. Coriander-crusted tuna (sense a trend?) was similarly well partnered by panzanella salad, rather like the bruschetta reconstructed.
The flatbread pizzas are light and crunchy, and though the crab pizza with Muenster-sherry sauce and Old Bay seasoning sounds like a curiosity, it's happily mild. Either it or the version with shrimp, bacon, horseradish cream and Monterey Jack makes for a good group splitter, especially with one of the darker beers (and Dogfish Head IPA on draft). Or go for the roasted-just-to-warm oysters with applewood bacon, Muenster cheese and a smidge of Vidalia onions.
One night's "pig of the day" was really a double dose: the double-cut pork chop described as, you guessed it, andouille-crusted; in practice, it was baked with a half-inch-thick layer of flattened sausage on top. The chop was too done and dry, though the sausage had been patted down of grease; but in any case the combination was more cute than complementary. The pork porterhouse, at $19.95, would have been the better choice; it emerged much more tender, though only mildly affected by a mango relish.
Other recipes don't cut the mustard. The gumbo wouldn't make me jump the train for Louisiana: It's very dark, with a texture that suggested it had been thickened with pureed red beans, and with rather clumsy though probably well-intentioned oversize chunks of chicken. The pepper sauce was only moderate, but salt began to build up on the palate quickly. And there was no okra in the bowl, although there was plenty of bell peppers.
The lobster mac 'n' cheese, some version of which is almost ubiquitous these days, was generous but not particularly likable. It's apparently a sort of "light" concept whose vapid cheese sauce was too scarce to hold the corkscrew pasta together, and its disappointingly scant portion of lobster was amplified by oddly pallid shrimp and crab meat.
Still, in a resort town that can seem split between rote family fare and upscale, sometimes expensive (or cutesy) eclectic, Pig + Fish may yet provide a popular middle ground -- good, unusual pub fare at moderate prices. Snout out of the question.